Scorer: O'Brien (13, 28)


CELTIC won the Youth Cup for a record eighth time last night, but SFL opponents St Mirren emerged with much credit from this entertaining encounter at Hampden Park.

Two masterful first-half strikes from Jim O'Brien proved the difference between the sides and puts Willie McStay's fledglings on course for the double.

All in all it has been a good week for Celtic. The first team's victory over Rangers last Sunday moved them clear at the top of the Premierleague, while the reserves won their league on Monday and McStay's successful under-19s could now achieve the second leg of the double if they claim the title.

"St Mirren made it difficult for us. It's not hard to see why they reached the cup final, " reflected McStay. "But our boys acquitted themselves very well and took the stage tonight. We now have three games left in the league and there's three or four of us all in contention."

However, no-one should underestimate the achievement of this St Mirren side in reaching the first Youth Cup final in their history. Indeed, this was their first appearance at Hampden since the Scottish Cup final victory back in 1987. The Love Street production line back then was responsible for the emergence of Paul Lambert and Ian Ferguson and the future looks promising for this latest batch.

"At times in the first half, and then more in the second, we caused them problems but we couldn't put the ball in the net, " reflected Mixu Paatalainen, the St Mirren coach, whose team beat Kilmarnock, Rangers and Dundee en route to the final.

"They have a team full of internationalists and we don't have, but they are a good group of boys and they want to learn."

The young Saints paid for some early raggedness. Gary Gillespie impeded Ryan Conroy's progress on the left wing and, from the resultant free kick, Celtic took a 12th minute lead. Chris Smith, the St Mirren keeper, set himself for a cross into the middle but, instead, O'Brien curled an exquisite right-foot drive in at the near post which Smith got his hands to but could not keep out.

"He asked us in training yesterday, if he saw a gap at the near post, could he go for goal.

I'm still not sure he meant it, though, " smiled McStay. "It wasn't meant, no chance, " smiled O'Brien. "But I'll take it when the luck is there."

The St Mirren captain, Ryan McCay, speared a powerful drive across the face of goal before Kjartan Finnbogasson, Celtic's tall Icelandic striker, headed an O'Brien cross against a post and then made a hash of the rebound.

Ryan Molloy and Graham McWilliam had chances for the Paisley side, but it was Celtic who stretched their lead.

Michael Gardyne was the architect this time, laying a ball to O'Brien, who rifled home.

In Simon Ferry, meanwhile, they have uncovered a Neil Lennon clone. The highly-rated young midfielder, who has been tipped to bypass the reserves and make the leap straight into the first-team squad, has the same barrelling motion as the Northern Irishman and is an equally jealous custodian of possession.

"I don't think there was a better player on the pitch than Simon Ferry and he's only just turned 17, " said McStay.

Celtic sat back more in the second half and Scott McFarlane, the impressive St Mirren striker, should have done better in the 53rd minute when he skied an effort over the bar.

Scott Gemmill and Gillespie then passed up chances and Molloy was also profligate inside the box.

St Mirren Smith, McCay (Marini 85), Gordon, Milne, Martin, McWilliam, McFarlane (Harkness 81min), Gillespie (Anderson 81), McKenna, Molloy, Gemmill Booked Milne, McWilliam

Celtic Fox, Reid, Mulgrew, McGlinchey, Cuthbert, Bjarnason (Richardson 90), O'Brien (McCafferty 90), Ferry (McGowan 88), Gardyne, Finnbogasson, Conroy Booked Gardyne, Ferry

Referee S Conroy